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Horning v. Horning

Supreme Court of Alaska

February 17, 2017

SHANDA HORNING, Appellant,
v.
DONOVAN HORNING, Appellee.

         Appeal from the Superior Court No. 3 AN-15-05396 CI of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Erin B. Marston, Judge.

          Eva Khadj inova, Pro Bono Program-Alaska Legal Services Corp., Anchorage, for Appellant.

          Vikram N. Chaobal, Law Office of Vikram N. Chaobal, Anchorage, for Appellee.

          Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Winfree, Maassen, Bolger, and Carney, Justices.

          OPINION

          BOLGER, Justice.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Shanda Horning is eligible for healthcare from the Indian Health Service (IHS) because she is an Alaska Native. Donovan Horning has unvested post-retirement healthcare benefits through the military's TRICARE program. When the superior court divided the marital estate after the couple's divorce trial, it did not classify, value, or distribute either party's healthcare, finding instead that each had "an equal benefit that [was] in essence a wash for the purpose of dividing the marital estate."

         Shanda now appeals. She argues that her eligibility for IHS healthcare is separate property, that Donovan's TRICARE benefit is marital property, and that it was therefore error for the superior court to use her separate property to offset Donovan's marital property. We agree. We therefore vacate the superior court's property distribution order and remand for further proceedings.

         II. FACTS AND PROCEEDINGS

         Donovan and Shanda Horning were married in October 2000 and separated in March 2013. Donovan enlisted in the United States Air Force in January 2001, soon after the couple married. Donovan's monthly gross income is around $7, 400; Shanda's monthly gross income is around $2, 600.

         As an active member of the military, Donovan has health insurance through TRICARE. If Donovan retires from the military with more than 20 years of service, he will continue to have health insurance through the TRICARE program for the rest of his life.[1] Shanda is an Alaska Native and is therefore eligible to receive healthcare provided by IHS.

         Donovan filed for divorce in March 2015. Before the divorce trial began, Shanda requested costs to pay for an expert valuation of Donovan's military pension and his post-retirement TRICARE benefit. Shanda argued that both of those assets were marital property and that they needed to be valued in order to divide the marital estate. The superior court denied Shanda's request, concluding that an expert was not necessary and there was "enough information to go forward" with the distribution analysis.

         The superior court's final property distribution order divided the marital estate "[w]ith the goal of an equitable distribution of 50/50." The order required Shanda and Donovan to equally split the marital portion of Donovan's military pension. But the superior court did not divide the marital portion of Donovan's post-retirement TRICARE benefit.

         Instead the superior court found that Donovan's post-retirement TRICARE benefit and Shanda's eligibility for IHS healthcare provided "an equal benefit that is in essence a wash for the purpose of dividing the marital estate." The superior court therefore concluded that it was "not necessary to value either coverage with more specificity and would needlessly dissipate limited marital assets without the probability of achieving meaningful values."

         Shanda now appeals. She argues that the superior court implicitly treated her separate property - her eligibility for IHS-provided healthcare - as marital property by using it to offset Donovan's TRICARE benefit, and that this error requires us to vacate the superior court's property division order. She also argues that the superior court abused its discretion when it ...


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